MIDWAY: Das Kapital
Sales of Marx’s Das Kapital are reportedly soaring as the world realises that this was where he prophesied how capitalism will destroy itself. So it’s time for a Kapital primer, time to talk fetishism (yay!) of commodities (d’oh!). Commodities: a chair is a commodity - not because you can sit on it, but because it was produced by humans to be traded. Each commodity has a use value, measured by its usefulness in satisfying needs and wants.
Exchange value: How, you’ll be asking, can one measure the difference in value between, say, a 80GB iPod, and a new copy of Kapital? It’s the exchange value, stupid. This is measured
by the amount of labour that goes into making each commodity - such is the Marxist labour theory of value and the source of what Marx called the fetishism of commodities.
Literary value: As Francis Wheen stresses in his biography of Marx, Das Kapital is partly a racy gothic novel, a Frankenstein-like tale of how we created a monster from which we are alienated and which, by means of class struggle, we will slay. Capital: This is money used to buy more money. Like God, capital seems mystical and immutable, but is really only a function
of social relationships. Capitalists think capital has magical significance. Exploitation: Commodity sales increase the amount of exchange-value owned by capitalists, yielding profit and thus helping them accumulate capital. How? You accumulate capital by the creation of surplus value, which is unpaid labour appropriated by employers.
Crises: Capitalists aren’t especially interested in accumulating commodities and the incessant drive to amass capital causes crises. The over-expansion of credit by greedy capitalists recently resulted in more goods being sold than can be bought from income and savings. The result? Widespread debts and straitened circumstances. Profit: This falls when capitalism exhausts its capacity for growth. Also, as technology improves and productivity rises, more goods are produced, which are worth less.
The end: Whether such crises will destroy capitalism is uncertain. Marx thought they would but he wasn’t convincing about when. It will, though, end. Some time. Maybe before Christmas.